Few things can derail an amazing trip like a lackluster (or downright bad) hotel stay—and few things can break the bank like a high-priced hotel pick. But you don’t have to choose between a comfortable stay in a convenient spot and keeping your finances in order. If you’ve got five-star taste but a two-star budget, read on for eight simple tricks to save money on hotels.
Choose a Popular Area during the Offseason
A nice hotel in New York City is not usually going to be a budget buy, but it can depend on the day. A hotel in the Financial District may go for significantly less on a weekend than similar lodging a few miles north. Neighborhoods that are buzzing during the week in a large city can often be downright sleepy when employees are home and business travelers have departed.
This strategy can work for non-urban areas (e.g. national parks and monuments) as well. If you can, take your trip a few weeks before or after a holiday weekend—you’ll get similar weather but lower prices (and avoid the crowds). If you’re OK with fewer shops open or activities available, shoot for the weeks just before or after the regular season.
Don’t Be Afraid to Move Around
There’s definitely a benefit to picking a hotel in a location central to where you’ll be exploring—and it can be crucial to the enjoyment of your trip that your room is clean, comfortable, and private. (I did the hostel thing in my early 20s, and, while it was a worthwhile experience, sharing a room full of bunk beds and a bathroom down the hall is no longer palatable.) Sometimes, there’s no avoiding a premium price for a popular hotel, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth spending your entire trip there.
Getting to your destination late at night or leaving early in the morning? Save some cash by spending those nights in a less-popular area further out. I took this approach on a recent road trip from New Mexico to Chicago, finding cheaper hotels between destinations on travel days, and staying closer to the spot I wanted to explore when I could make full use of the time there.
Get Rewarded with a Hotel Credit Card
Most credit cards these days come with some kind of rewards, but, if you know travel is high on your priority list, consider a credit card from a major hotel brand. I personally like Marriott Bonvoy. With over 30 brands around the world, you’re bound to find an option or two at your destination. Additionally, you can get free nights off the bat, even before you spend your first dollar. I was able to take several trips on holiday weekends this past year because of the free nights I had in my account.
Marriott Bonvoy covers a range of hotel options; whether you’re a family on budget or a couple planning a romantic weekend, you can usually find a hotel brand that suits your needs. Their user-friendly app allows you to easily compare points to dollar amount, so you can decide whether you want to use your rewards, or if it’s a better value to simply pay out-right.
Other brands to consider are Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt. Though I haven’t opened a credit card with either of these companies, both provide an extensive collection of hotel options, as well as offers for bonus points and free nights. If you’re a regular credit card user, you may as well earn your vacation along the way.
Be Loyal to Your Hotel Booking App
Hotels.com has been around practically since the internet was born. What makes it a go-to app on my phone whenever I’m booking travel is not just the fact that you can usually find a decent discount on a hotel, but their punch-card style rewards program: book 10 nights, get one free. All you need to do is create a free account and make sure you are logged in when you book. The free night value is the average of the previous ten nights.
I used this app often when I traveled for work and would quickly rack up free nights I could use for my own leisure travel. One of the benefits of services like Hotels.com is the breadth of lodging choices; you don’t have to stick with any specific brand, just book through the website or app. It can even include less traditional options like cabins or glamping spots.
Book Hotel Reservations Directly with the Property
In a web full of discount sites, there is always a deal to be found. But sometimes that deal can be on the hotel website. I like to compare what I find on an Expedia or Trip Advisor with the advertised cost from the hotel. Sometimes, the former has the deal, but not always. When you book directly with a hotel, you may be bypassing a middleman, and therefore, reaping the savings. Even if the price is the same, you could find little perks from booking on the hotel site, like free breakfast or upgrade, just to incentivize you to book with them.
Procrastinate Your Way to a Deal
The wait-and-see approach always comes with a little bit of risk, so if you’re heading someplace with a likelihood of selling out of rooms, this may not be the best method for you. But if you enjoy flexibility and aren’t arriving in high-season, you could end up with a great hotel at the last minute. I’ve gone this route on multiple occasions, not wanting to be committed to a strict itinerary. I enjoyed the freedom it provided, and I found many solid deals booking the same day. Sometimes, I would be in the hotel parking lot, booking on an app so I still got my rewards points.
Skip the Extras
It seems like more and more hotels are getting on the free wifi band wagon, but it’s not always a given. While the Internet may seem like a necessity, often these networks aren’t super-fast anyway. If you’re in an area with decent phone signal, you might be better off just sticking to cellular data for Instagram posts and Google Maps searches.
If you’re trying to stream your favorite Netflix show at the end of the day and don’t have enough gigabytes to handle it—or need to crank out some work on your laptop—it may cost less to temporarily upgrade your cell plan and use your phone as a hotspot. Depending on your carrier, this could be as simple as opening up their app and tapping a few buttons. Just don’t forget to change it back after you get home, and of course, read all the fine print.
Parking is another sneaky expense that can quickly push your steal of a hotel over-budget. This is mostly a concern if you’re staying in a populated metro area, as they may charge $25 a night or more. An app like Spot Hero, which is basically a Hotels.com for your car, is great for finding deals to park. You may be able to leave your ride just down the street for a lot less.
Then there are the basics: food and water. You need these, right? Of course, but you can save a significant amount by purchasing enough bottled water, trail mix, or even little bottles of alcohol (canned wine, anyone?) at a grocery store. Stock up your own mini-bar, at a mini-cost, before you find yourself ravenous and forking over $5 for a Snickers.
Talk to the Front Desk
Sometimes going from overlooking the parking lot to overlooking the ocean at no extra cost is as simple as asking at check-in. The people working the front desk are just that: people. Talk to them as such. Engaging this person with a genuine “how is your day?” can go a long way in making that day a little better. As someone who has worked in this industry, I will tell you, those days can feel very long; and as someone who has experienced those long days on the traveler’s end, I know I don’t always show up to a hotel terribly chipper.
I’m not suggesting you try to manipulate your way into scoring an upgrade; the staff will be able to spot insincerity from a mile away. However, being a pleasant, friendly human can make it more likely they will want to grant you that request.
Travel is one of those transcendent experiences that benefits all. It’s not just for the wealthy, or those willing and able to live out of a van. Most of us fall somewhere in between. With a few simple money-saving strategies like these, you can make travel part of your regular life, without winning the lottery, or selling your home.